"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Abominable Snowman

This expression was coined by members of Shipton's expedition up Everest in 1951 and refers to the Yeti, an ape-like creature said to inhabit the Himalayan region of Nepal and Tibet.

I always thought the idea of a Yeti was very attractive and could not understand why it should be termed Abominable.

Abominable means unequivocally detestable; atrocious: exceptionally bad or displeasing; worthy of, or causing, abhorrence, as a thing of evil omen; odious in the utmost degree; very hateful; detestable; loathsome; or execrable. In other words - not nice!

It seems I had misinterpreted the word abominable as used by Shipton and Co. - as I suspect do most people - since it has another meaning. In the context in which he named the snowman, abominable simply meant excessively large.


  1. I think I'll try out this new knowledge the next time my wife makes an excessively large pizza.

    "Honey, this pizza is abominable!"

    (Wait... that could get me in trouble!)

  2. I didn't know about the "excessively large" definition.
    I have always been puzzled by the abominable moniker, because I could never figure out what would make the Yeti so repulsive.

    Shabby Girl sent me here. Love the words!

  3. As I note in my book, Tom Slick and the Search for the Yeti (1989), the phrase "Abominable Snowman" was coined in 1921.

    This is the year Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury led the Royal Geographical Society's "Everest Reconnaissance Expedition," which he chronicled in Mount Everest The Reconnaissance, 1921. In the book, Howard-Bury includes an account of crossing the "Lhakpa-la" at 21,000 ft (6,400 m) where he found footprints that he believed "were probably caused by a large 'loping' grey wolf, which in the soft snow formed double tracks rather like a those of a bare-footed man." He adds that his Sherpa guides "at once volunteered that the tracks must be that of The Wild Man of the Snows, to which they gave the name metoh-kangmi."

    "Metoh" translates as "man-bear" and "Kang-mi" translates as "snowman." An Indian newsperson mistranslated the phrase as "Abominable Snowman" in a news story on the 1921 expedition.

    Confusion exists between Howard-Bury's recitation of the term "metoh-kangmi" and the term used in Bill Tilman's book Mount Everest, 1938, where Tilman had used the words "metch," which cannot exist in the Tibetan language, and "kangmi" when relating the coining of the term "Abominable Snowman." Further evidence of "metch" being a misnomer is provided by Tibetan language authority Professor David Snellgrove from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London (ca. 1956), who dismissed the word "metch" as impossible, because the consonants "t-c-h" cannot be conjoined in the Tibetan language."

    Documentation suggests that the term "metch-kangmi" is derived from one newspaper source (from the year 1921). It has been suggested that "metch" is simply a misspelling of "metoh."

    In later works of hominology, various authors (e.g. Ivan Sanderson, Bernard Heuvelmans) have pointed out that "Met-teh" is used by the locals to mean a "man-sized beast."

    Nevertheless, "Abominable Snowman," viewed incorrectly as "one" creature that is "white" living in the "snowfields" does live on. The Yeti or Snowmen are actually reported as red-brown to black hairy bipeal creatures, who exist and are seen in small groups as well as alone, and reported to live in the montane valleys. Their tracks are found as they cross the high passes to reach other valleys.

    Eric Shipton did find some often published Yeti tracks during his 1951 expedition to Mt. Everest. But Shipton did not coin the phrase "Abominable Snowman."

    Loren Coleman
    Cryptozoologist, media consultant